An excerpt from Jennifer Stevenson's
"Jennifer Stevenson is my goddess. In
this book, trash is power. Trash Sex Magic is a springtime bacchanalia
of beautiful, wild women, magic trees and sexy men-love it!"
-Nalo Hopkinson, author of The Salt Roads
"It was a proverb of the 16th Century:
On Hallowmass Eve troll notte thy broomstick bye ye caravan park,
for thou wottist notte who maye mount thereon. I had paid it
little heed since learning it years ago, and planned to read this
grand book one chapter at a time. I'd scarcely begun the second
when I fell under the author's spell."
-Gene Wolfe, author of Knight
FOXE PARKE TOWNHOUSES, BERNE, ILLINOIS
EIGHT ELEGANT RIVERSIDE DWELLINGS
ARCHITECTS: LUNT MORSE A.I.A.
DEVELOPER: ATLAS PROPERTIES
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: BAGOFF, FIMBEAU & JUICK
Raedawn Somershoe shook her mother's
shoulder. "Gelia! Wake up!" She jumped back as Gelia's
fist swung out of the blankets. Cold March air blew in the trailer
window, fluttering the edges of quilts stapled to the walls. "Mother!
They're cutting down the tree across the road!"
"Right now! The machines are
all there!" Through the window Rae heard a chainsaw cough.
She flew back outside to the edge of the railroad tracks by the
There they were. A big yellow bulldozer
and a little one like yesterday, churning up the mud they'd made
of the meadow, and today a white trailer on a flatbed truck, a big
hopper with ominous whirling blades in its mouth, and, reaching
up to the top of their tree, a huge crane with a man in a bucket
on top. He was draping ropes over the leafless upper limbs of the
Rae hugged her own arms, cold with
dread. "They're really going to do it," she whispered.
"'Course they are," her
mother said beside her. "They had the sign up a month ago."
Rae rounded on her. "If you
knew, why didn't you do something?"
"What could I do that he couldn't?"
Gelia stood watching the men at work, looking closed-up and satisfied
in that horrible way she had when bad things happened just as she
said they would. She turned the look on Rae. "Well? You
gonna stand here and watch? Let's get out of here."
She heaved two big laundry bags to
her shoulders and stomped off toward Rimville.
The chainsaw coughed again. Rae heard
a clatter as small branches sputtered away and fell. Her skin crawled.
She ran to catch up with Gelia.
Gelia tossed one of the bags on the
ground, put her head down, and walked faster. The chainsaw roared
behind them. Rae snatched up the second laundry bag and followed.
Going be like that, is it. Gelia
knowing stuff and not telling. Rae tried to wrap
the laundry bag around her head so she couldn't hear the growl of
the saw. Maybe she could march back there, fuck every one of those
men if that was what it took, or lay hands on the machines so they'd
break down or, awful thought, make the machines turn on the killers.
No. Even Gelia couldn't do that.
Whatever had gone wrong, it was out of their hands. A sound came
like machine-gun fire. They were feeding the little branches into
She caught up with Gelia on the climb
up the hill. "You knew? When they put up the sign? What--how
can he die?"
Gelia turned so fast, her laundry
bag almost knocked Rae down. "Be still."
"What's going to happen to us?"
All Gelia's teeth showed. "We're
gonna be just peachy."
"Last night--I was with him--he's
been so strange--"
"Be still!" Her
mother looked ravaged.
"You never let me talk about
him!" Rae cried.
Gelia slapped her hard across the
face. "That's right. And now you never will." She picked
up her laundry again and toiled on up the hill, her back bent as
Rae had never seen it before.
Rae picked up her own bag and panted
after her. That bad old numbness got hold of her, made her sick
to her stomach, made the sky dark and turned her head to a block
of wood. She marched like a little kid up the steep concrete street,
each step impossibly small, past black lumps of old snow and grass
trying to go green. Her cheek stung. She hated Gelia putting the
silence on her. Hated it.
In the laundromat they sorted dirty
clothes, avoiding accidental touches on the hand, tossing stuff
onto each other's piles. They sat at opposite ends of the room
with their magazines. Blindly Rae watched the wet laundry go round
He couldn't die. She shut her eyes
and reached out for him, feeling for the place inside that he had
Shock slapped her, a hundred times
harder than Gelia's slap. She bounced against her plastic chair
and her eyes flew open.
At the sorting table, Gelia smirked
A moment later, the cement floor shook
under her shoes. Boom. Rae trembled with the feel of change
in the air.
Gelia flinched, but she never looked
The manager-repairman swaggered into
the laundry. "Hey, baby," he said to Gelia. "I've
missed ya. Stick around and watch the game tonight?"
Gelia ignored him.
"How 'bout you, Rae?" he
said across the table.
Rae twitched, trying to smile. "That's
awful nice of you, Dan." Dear god, somebody was having a normal
Gelia put her hand on his behind and
he turned his hey-baby grin back to her.
Boom. Rae and Gelia flinched
"I didn't say no yet, did I?"
Gelia snapped, her eyes glittering. Gelia would be proving herself
number one hussy on her deathbed.
"See you tonight, babe,"
Dan told Gelia and swaggered out.
Gelia met Rae's eyes across the table.
There was something indescribably nasty in that look. Gelia had
a secret, and she was angry with her daughter, and it would cost
Rae dear to find out what it was.
Boom. Gelia turned away and
began stuffing her load into a dryer. Rae stared out the window
at a posse of yelling crows flying hell-for-leather eastbound over
the trees, and waited for the next chunk to hit the ground.
"God dammit!" Gelia
gave a childish shriek of rage. She twiddled the knob on the dryer
and her fist hit the metal panel with a bang. For the first time
Rae heard disbelief and loss in her mother's voice.
"God damn machine! It ate my
Rae stood under the scrubby box elder
trees outside her trailer, her hands clenched in the pouch of her
faded red sweatshirt. She couldn't bring herself to walk past on
her way to work without looking. Perhaps there was a twig left,
a leaf. She crossed the road again. Huge machines tore across
the meadow, crushing the yellow noses of cattail shoots and jewelweed
where they clotted the spongy wet pockets. On drier ground, the
great wheels ground down the first leaves of Queen Anne's lace,
black-eyed susan, thickening mosses and lank prairie grass.
Rae clumped over the muddy ruts, lost
for the first time in twenty-five years. The meadow had been a
child-high carpet of wildflowers, hummocked with interesting trash,
guarded by great black-trunked trees. The ridge behind it, festooned
with wild grape vines and raspberry canes and secret paths, rose
only a hundred yards away.
Today the ridge was all that was left.
Hot tears choked her and mud stuck in bigger and heavier lumps to
her shoes. The meadow shrank around the acre of naked mud, torn
beyond recognition, nothing left of chiggerweed and wild mustard,
St. John's wort and spiderwort.
Rae staggered. The workmen paused
in their ditches and watched her cry.
She found what she was looking for.
"Yo, girlie! Get off my site!"
Is this all that's left? she
thought, looking down at the stump.
The site foreman said, "Foo!
What's that stink?"
At their feet, the tree stump lay
on its side, its huge spidery root system aimed north, the vast
trunk aiming south. The roots sagged like rotting sausage. A whitish
fluid oozed out of the sawn-off end and hardened, covered with buzzing
and struggling flies. The stump stank of death. Rae looked for
the other sixty feet of trunk, limbs, branches, twigs, and leaves.
Impossible. There should be something. A leaf, a shred of bark.
The foreman waved an arm. "Yo,
A big fat black workman ambled over.
The foreman pointed at the stump.
"Remember that stink I was complaining about?"
"That was a big tree," Alexander
"Biggest tree on the site. Hadda
take it out to put up the office."
Rae covered her mouth with both hands.
The workman Alexander stared at her. A bumblebee flew around her
head and landed on her shoulder.
The foreman picked up a twig. "Like
a dead animal."
"What kind was it?" Alexander
"The kind that's inna way,"
the foreman said. He poked the trunk. The twig sank readily into
the bark and foul-smelling fluid spurted out. He jumped back.
"Get this on the truck, pronto," he said and stomped away.
"You okay, Miss?" Alexander
said to Rae.
Numb, not expecting an answer, she
said, "How can they do these things?"
"I don't know," he said.
He towered over her for a long moment, so big he shut out the weak
March sun, and then he left, casting another look at her over his
shoulder as he went.
Rae stumbled away. What had he
said last night?
I've borrowed a couple of spares.
You won't be alone.
No, that's not what he said. Rae
glared hard at the ground between her muddy shoes, trying to remember,
trying to tune in to the huge, bright signal of his voice, now truly
silent. But all she could hear was noise.
I've assigned a team of extras.
No. I've somethinged two somethings. What had he really
She shook her head. He never said
anything in words. She only understood, or didn't. She listened
with her inner ear for the voice that had no words, but he was gone.
Hacked up, thrown away. She sucked air across her burning throat.
The smell of the stump gagged her. What's going to happen to
Alexander Caebeau watched the girl
in the red sweatshirt walk away across the road. She was the single
most beautiful thing he had seen since he came to this cold, unfriendly
place and began starving to death. She had hair that looked gold
or white or tawny, depending on how the sun hit it, and her skin
was whiter than white, the white that glows from inside, the white
skin you saw in Nassau sometimes, even among his own cousins.
The girl in the red sweatshirt didn't
seem to protect her skin much. She had a look, readily identifiable
to a child of the working poor, of someone who lived with her beauty,
rather than for it.
He went back to his unpleasant job.
The bucketloader blade dug into the black dirt and scooped, easily
lifting the bulk of the great severed tree trunk. He felt like
It seemed that the whole point of
the work he did was to kill the kind of life he led back home--tear
down shabby old houses such as the one he grew up in, or where the
girl in the red sweatshirt lived, over there by the river. His
job to dig up their great trees, chase away the chickens, gouge
great holes in their backyards, and then fill them up with concrete
towers of ugliness. They changed the way the wind blew, those concrete
towers. The old neighborhoods were passing in Freeport,
as the houses closest to the beach and the heart of town were leveled
and replaced with strip malls, hotels, and rows and rows of blue-and-white
cement swimming pools. His own uncle owned the bulldozer company
that pushed those little houses down, while grannies watched stony-faced
and children hid behind their skirts. All to make what? A new
piece of trash that would come falling down in fifty or sixty years.
What kind of tree was it? The
kind that's in the way.
Great trees should be treasured.
That's the way we do things at home. He sighed. Until Granmamā
relented, he would not see home again.
Meantime he was starving, living on
hamburgers and growing fatter while, inside, he was always hungry.
This place was soulless. The plants and trees were wrong and the
sun came up too late and too cold. At the end of his last date,
after he'd asked out the waitress at the coffeeshop, she had demanded
twenty dollars. They all thought he was a rube. Well, so he was.
Now the girl in the red sweatshirt
was standing by the side of the road, talking to a large, shambling-looking
white man in overalls that flopped off his shoulder. Her father
maybe, since he put his arm around her, comforting her. No, for
she kissed him now. Her companion grabbed her around the waist
and pulled her to him. The kiss went on and on. Alexander stalled
the bucketloader, watching. The girl pulled free and ran off to
one of the trailers by the riverbank.
Alexander caught a stunned look on
the man's face. He understood. He would have felt the same way,
had she kissed him. Perhaps the man had been in love a long time.
Alexander sighed. On top of the power pole beside the construction
office trailer, a crow guffawed.
Alexander looked away toward the ridge
where a pair of grubby white-headed kids squatted on the ridgetop.
He raised his arm. After a moment they raised theirs. To him?
Or were they waving at the girl in the red sweatshirt?
Here she came, carrying a string bag.
She kissed the man in overalls again. A blue convertible pulled
up, its top open and its front seat full of rich, pretty girls.
The man in overalls squeezed into the front seat with them and the
convertible drove away. The girl in the red sweatshirt walked away
down the road. The crow on the power pole took off and floated
behind her, its wings glinting in the sunshine. Alexander stared
after her like an idiot.
He pulled the big lever that tipped
the great rotting stump into the dump truck. "There you go,
Sometimes he thought he was dying
of the dark and cold and people's ugliness, like an orange lost
in the back of the refrigerator. Maybe he would get hard on the
outside and nobody would ever taste how sweet he could have been.
June 15, 2004
320 pages, 5.5" x 8.25"
Trade pb ISBN:
Available from SCB Distributors (scbdistributors.com),
Ingram, and Baker & Taylor
here to preorder from the publisher